This series was recommended to me after I recently read one of Martin Walker's mysteries set in France. Death at the Chateau Bremont is the first of a series that is set in Aix-en-Provence and features the chief magistrate of Aix, Antoine Verlaque, and law professor Marine Bonnet who was a former lover of his and, it seems, may become a current lover.
The author of the series, M.L. Longworth, is a reporter and magazine writer, who has written in - among other venues - Bon Appetit magazine. That was certainly evident in this book in which much of the description was devoted to foods and to wines. It seemed that Longworth was eager to show off her knowledge of these things. Maybe she should have stuck to writing for Bon Appetit.
The mystery here begins with the death of a nobleman named Etienne de Bremont who took a header out the window of the attic in the family chateau. At first, it appears to have been accidental, but two of his cousins who are lawyers are not so sure and request an inquiry into the circumstances. Thus enters Antoine Verlaque.
Six months before, Verlaque had broken off his long-running romantic relationship with Marine Bonnet - or did she break it off with him? Like many things in this book, that is a bit of a muddle. But Verlaque knows that Bonnet knew the Bremont family and grew up with the man who was killed as her playmate. He contacts her to ask for information about the family and she becomes involved in the investigation.
There is a lot of fairly aimless wandering around Provence with the main purpose seeming to be the tasting of wine rather than the solving of a mystery. We get copious descriptions of the countryside and the wines but not much description of any investigatory action. That all seems quite haphazard and off the cuff. Somehow I don't think this is representative of French police work. (I did watch The Tunnel on PBS, so obviously I am something of an expert. At least as much an expert as someone who has spent her career writing for posh foodie magazines.)
Anyway, the plot meanders along and then we have a second death - the brother of the first man who died. There's no doubt about how this one happened; he was strangled.
Even so, this doesn't seem to light a fire under Verlaque. He's still more interested in pursuing a resumption of his relationship with Bonnet and in enjoying fine food and superlative wines in 3-star restaurants and savoring his fine cigars (He belongs to a cigar club!) than in finding out what happened to these two men and who is responsible.
I give up! The plot and the characters in this book are just a big, fat mess!
And that reminds me: At one point, Marine is ruminating on the looks and manners of the tourists that flock into Provence and she expresses her disgust at all the fat American and English women who carry around their gallons of water with them. It was an utterly gratuitous insult which contributed nothing to the plot and just made the "heroine" out to be a pompous jerk.
Finally, we do find out what happened in regard to the first death, but the mystery of who killed the second man and why is never solved unless it was in one of those passages where my eyes glazed over as I was speed-reading through the last chapters. Maybe the mystery was carried over to be solved in the second entry in the series, but I'm not curious enough to find out.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars